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When I was visiting China a couple years ago, I felt as if I were being watched.
Now, I worry that foreign tourists will avoid visiting the United States for fear we’ll do the same to them.
Tourism certainly will be part of the collateral damage caused by recent revelations that the National Security Agency is spying on the phone calls, e-mails and social media of both citizens and noncitizens.
Already, 43% of overseas travelers who visited the U.S. in the past five years tell their friends and relatives to avoid traveling here because of draconian entry procedures, the U.S. Travel Association found. One in 3 believe the U.S. has the worst or near-worst entry process in the world.
It’s hard to hold out welcoming arms when those arms are crossed in a hostile and suspicious pose.
Effectively, our tourism message to the world is: “We’d Welcome You Except We Think You Might be a Terrorist.”
America, the paranoid
Whether it’s true doesn’t matter. The damage is done. The perception is out. The U.S. suspects you are up to no good. Otherwise, why would you visit our country?
A nation that does mass surveillance on its own citizens has a chilling impact on foreigners even thinking about visiting.
Already, the U.S. has had to prop up post-9/11 tourism by spending $150 million a year over the past decade in advertising around the world.
There were 66 million foreign arrivals to the U.S. last year. If you eliminate Canadian and Mexican visitors, the number drops to 29 million. The U.S. is losing an increasing percentage of the world’s tourism business. It was losing it even before this latest NSA revelation.
But the nation needs the jobs that tourism provides. Tourism is big business.
If only our leaders cared.
I just thought of another possible slogan for our tourism campaign: “We Feel Like We Already Know You. And we do.”
Go away, strange people
In the past few weeks, President Barack Obama has tried to reassure American citizens they have no reason to worry. American citizens are safe. American citizens aren’t the target. Americans can sleep soundly.
Well, what about a tourist or business traveler from Germany or Brazil or Saudi Arabia who comes to the United States and contacts his mother back in Rothenburg, Rio or Riyadh?